You helped me find my ladder, Goro-san.

Tampopo, by Juzo Itami, is affectionately referred to by the publicity for the film as a “ramen western”, a play on the term “spaghetti western”. Really, there’s no such thing as a “ramen western”; the film is merely about noodles, is all, or rather about a lowly restaurant matron who prepares them. It’s not even a western, at that. It takes a little bit to get into the meat of the film, rather than just dropping in on it, but once you’re there, this becomes quite the delightful little comedy. One shouldn’t expect raucous laughter from this, however; it follows in the style of Jacques Tati’s low-key comedies, opting instead for a sense of whimsy and light-heartedness. You’ll get a slew of amusing and lightly humorous events, rather than laugh-out-loud jokes. If you’re looking for the latter, I’ll be upfront; you’d be better off looking elsewhere.

The title refers to the widowed woman, Tampopo, who runs a ramen noodle shop in a non-descript Japanese town. Two truck drivers stop at her place, and the more experienced one gets into a fight with a slew of other patrons. Waking up in Tampopo’s house, she asks them their opinion of her food, which isn’t very good, and after a crash course in food preparation, the two drivers decide to stay on as Tampopo’s teachers, educating her and helping her discover how to make excellent ramen noodles. In all honesty, my little plot description makes it sound a little more normal than it is; the whole tone of the film is just slightly ridiculous, and it’s infectious in that same way, so you never really have a serious mood when it comes to watching this one. There’s plenty of plot progression to keep the film going through the running time; in addition, there are several separate vignettes throughout the film that deal with other people and how they handle ordering and eating food. I was initially a little confused when these would appear, since they have nothing to do with the main plot, but I soon came to enjoy them just as much as the regular film; they each have a little extra something to bring to the table.

All in all, this was a nice little reprieve from the deathly serious films I seem to have watched as of late. I’m not quite convinced it really did enough to warrant a spot on the list, but I won’t argue too loudly; this was too cheerful of a film for me to try and look down on it. You can really tell the happy mood of the film set and crew just from watching this one; that’s a rare quality, and it’s one I personally look for in films. My only real complaint would be the placement of the vignettes in the film, especially near the end; it detracted from the real climax of the film a little too much, in my opinion. But that’s just nitpicking at this point. This is at least worth your time to check out, even if you end up not liking it. I can’t really blame you if you don’t; this sort of film isn’t for everyone, but if it is, you’ll likely find a surprising new favorite with this one.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10


3 thoughts on “Tampopo

  1. I love this one. Love it! It ranks in my top-10 and never fails to make me hungry.

    I think the vignettes are some of the best moments in the film. A couple of them (the old woman in the grocery store, the spaghetti eating lessons) are truly wonderful. There are a lot homages to old films here–the rice omelette is straight out of Chaplin.

  2. I love it too! I just wish there were more comedies on The List, especially if they were as delightful as Tampopo. I second the spaghetti eating lesson, it’s a classic. I also like the one where the young briefcase carrier decides to go against the flow and order a gourmet French meal.

    • If you liked this, you might want to check out the work of Jacques Tati that made the list: M. Hulot’s Holiday, Mon Oncle, and especially Playtime. There’s also been quite a few good things said about The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, but I personally didn’t care for that one.

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